The Power to Heal: Sister Mary Agnes Dombroski (Transcript)

Full text of Sister Mary Agnes Dombroski’s talk: “The Power to Heal” at TEDxPiscataquaRiver conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:



Thank you.

In the early 1980s, when I was a young teenager, I used to ask myself two questions. I used to like to go for long hikes and think, probably not a normal teenage activity but I did.

And the first question was: what is the purpose of my life? And the second question was, am I going to make a difference?

Now, the answer to the first question over the years of my teenage years, I came to in kind of a logical way and I would think about, okay my origin is God, he created me and my goal is God because I want to be with him forever in heaven and so that kind of led to my following a call to become a sister, as you can see.

So, that actually was easier for me of the two questions.

The second question, am I going to make a difference? I found that one much harder and I didn’t have any answer. By the time I was a young adult entering the convent and what I really discovered was really it’s a question that’s answered every single day based on how I respond to what’s going on around me, to the person in front of me, that’s how I make a difference in very small little ways every single day.

Now, fast-forward 10 years, early 90s now, I am sent by my religious community to St. Charles Children’s Home in Rochester to become a childcare worker. It was really difficult for me, partially because I had absolutely no experience working with children and in fact, when I was a teenager, I didn’t even babysit.

I mean, I came from a small town, there just weren’t people available and I was not something I felt drawn to. So, no experience with children and not only that but the children I was taken care of had very severe behavioral issues and I was really lost.

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At St. Charles, we work with children with really severe behavioral issues and those issues come from a number of reasons and I just was overwhelmed. And if you would have asked me in the early 90s, am I making a difference? Okay, I would have said no, because the best I can do on any given day is just get through the day and if at the end of the day, none of these girls have killed or hurt or injured one another then it’s a miracle, it’s definitely not me.

So, I really was feeling like, wow, I was discouraged, very profoundly discouraged.

But that was until this child came and now we’re in the mid-90s and the first day she arrived, she was off the Richter scale with her behavior. I would say, she was the most behaviorally disturbed child that I ever worked with.

On the very first day, she many times went into these frenzies of screaming and shouting all kinds of vulgar words and hitting and kicking and spitting and hair pulling and she was just out of control, no one wanted to get near her and by the end of that day, I was exhausted and I was thinking, how on earth am I going to survive taking care of this child.

So, by bedtime, my partner and I brought the children to bed. I brought her over to her bed, showed her where it was. I helped her get in, I tucked her in just like we do with the children every single night, I made a little cross on her forehead and I said, I’m asking Jesus to give you a blessing. That’s just what I did when I would tuck in the children.

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